After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID pandemic, about 45 die-hard patrons of the Clarence Brown Theatre packed up and headed to New York City earlier this month to see plays, eat at great restaurants and meet with some University of Tennessee alumni working and living in the Big Apple.
The beauty of this annual trip is that the good folks at the Clarence Brown Theatre select the plays and get the tickets, arrange for the hotel and a few group gatherings and come along to offer insights and advice along the way.
It is very fun and Alan and I highly recommend you consider this unique experience.
But first, here are a couple of things to know about what’s happening in New York’s Theater District right now:
- It is very difficult to get a taxi. Uber and Lyft rides are problematic, as well. Even with help from our hotel doormen, we had to cancel at least one reservation because we simply couldn’t get a ride. In another instance, we just opted to walk from the get-go, knowing it would take more than 30 minutes. So, bring good walking shoes and plan accordingly.
- The theaters are very strict about mask wearing. The folks in our group were fine with that policy, but be aware and, again, plan accordingly.
The plays this year were “Macbeth” starring Daniel Craig as the title character; “Hadestown;” “Funny Girl;” and “Little Shop of Horrors,” an optional off-Broadway add-on. We opted in because it starred Conrad Ricamora, who attended graduate school at the University of Tennessee, receiving his Master of Fine Arts degree in acting in 2012. Click here for a great New York Times article about his career and his struggle against Asian American stereotypes in show business. We saw his second-to-last performance in Little Shop.
This blog post will focus on the trip’s theatrical-related activities. Next post: the food! There was a lot of it!
You are not allowed to take photos during the plays. And I even got scolded for taking some during curtain call at one play. But I learned a long time ago from my reporting days that, if you are going to do something that might get you kicked out, do it at the END of the performance!
A note about this play. Jane Cox, a professional with Clarence Brown Theatre connections, is the lighting director and has been nominated for a Tony Award for “Best Lighting Design for a Play.” She directed the lighting for several Clarence Brown plays in the late ’90s, taught some master classes there and used UT master students as assistants. The Tony Awards air June 12. Fingers crossed for her.
Unlike previous years, we didn’t have plated service for lunch, but a pretty good buffet. Unfortunately, the historic building is not air-conditioned and one of the most memorable things about our visit was the heat.
Our next play was “Funny Girl” at the August Wilson Theatre.
We were lucky in that star Beanie Feldstein was in the performance we saw. According to media reports (like this one), she has been missing quite a few shows lately.
One of my favorite remarks from the trip came from my friend Julie Howard when I said that the character of Nick (Ramin Karimloo) didn’t seem to have much chemistry with Feldstein, who played his love interest, Fanny Brice.
Said Julie, “Well Nick had chemistry with ME! And that’s what matters!” Ha.
So, I think you get the idea about what a great trip this is — and I haven’t even mentioned the fantastic eateries we booked. Most of my colleagues on the trip disagreed with me, but I’d rank the plays in this order:
- “Little Shop of Horrors.” I can’t help it. I love puppets. And Conrad Ricamora.
- “Macbeth.” I love Daniel Craig.
- “Funny Girl.” The only non-violent play of the bunch!
- “Hadestown.” I liked it. But I liked the others more!
For the record, many others in our group ranked “Hadestown” at the top.